Missions were Spain’s main way of colonizing Texas and were expected to support themselves. The first of missions were established in the El Paso area, then East Texas and finally in the San Antonio area. • Missions were used to convert the Native Texans to the Catholic faith and make loyal subjects to Spain. • During the 16th century, El Paso became an important stop for Spanish explorers on their way to New Mexico to find riches and convert the native population to Christianity. After the founding of Santa Fe in 1609, El Paso became a critical point in the long north-south communication and trade route between the interior of Mexico and the missions and settlements in New Mexico. • Painting by Jose Cisneros, courtesy of the University of Texas at El Paso Library Collection.
Map of New Spain, 1768, with New Mexico (including the El Paso valley) encircled in gold and Provincia de los Tejas on right. After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a large number of Tigua, Piro, Tompiro, Tano, and JemezNative American refugees and hostages accompanied the Spanish south to El Paso where the Governor Otermínfounded Corpus Christi de la Ysleta, San Antonio de Senecú, and NuestraSeñora de la LimpiaConceptión del Socorro for them. “Nueva MapaGeographico de la America Septentrional” was drawn by Mexican cleric and scientist, José Antonio de Alzate y Ramirez.
Sketch of Ysleta Pueblo, drawn by a Confederate soldier in 1862, purported to be the oldest image of the pueblo and mission. Ysleta del Sur, as it was called, was originally built for Tigua Indians who came to El Paso in 1680. The image is part of a display in the Tigua Cultural Center in Ysleta, south of El Paso.
Interior of Catholic church at San Elizario, Texas. Photo by David Kaminsky, Historic American Buildings Survey, courtesy of Library of Congress.
A traditional log fence, secured with thin willow branches, encloses a field in San Elizario, Texas. Site of an 18th-century mission and presidio, the small community still retains its Spanish Colonial flavor. Photograph by Susan Dial. Lands around the missions were used for farming and grazing livestock.
The Rio Grande above El Paso. Before the construction of the Elephant Butte dam near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the Rio Grande was unpredictable, known for flooding, drought and channel-switching. Irrigation canals were necessary for agriculture in El Paso and to help scatter floodwaters from the Rio Grande. This photo was taken at Canutillo, one of just a handful of communities in Texas lying on the west side of the Rio Grande. Photograph by Susan Dial.
This irrigation canal, photographed by Thomas K. Dodsen in 1907, is likely very similar to those used in El Paso throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. During his visit to El Paso in 1760, Bishop Don Pedro Tamarón y Romeral described “a large irrigation ditch with which they bleed the Rio del Norte. It is large enough to receive half its waters. This ditch is subdivided into others which run through broad plains, irrigating them.” Note adobe building in background.
A Tularosa-style bowl dug up near Truth or Consequences, NM. It was made around 1250 by the Mogollon tribe. Archeologistsand other researchers use pottery from excavated sites to trace cultural traditions and migration patterns of Native Americans. Photograph by Sarah Brown.
NestoraPiaroteGranillo, a Tigua potter, stands next to a "horno" in the Old Ysleta Pueblo, circa 1876. Hornos are used to bake wheat bread and were introduced to the Americas along with wheat by the Spanish.
Coyote and Indio castasas depicted by O'Crouley in 1774. These paintings reflected the social status, or casta classifications, of individuals of various ethnicities in New Spain, with "Español" being the highest rank, according to officials and priests. Many Native Americans didn’t care for missions. Only a few converted to Catholicism. Often those who came to the missions only stayed for a few months, usually to escape hunger and cold winters.
Map of Spanish Texas, with locations of missions, presidios, and settlements. Note that the first mission established in the area, San Antonio de Senecu, lies in what is today the city of Juarez. Map by Bruce Moses. Courtesy of the Center for Archeological Research, University of Texas at San Antonio.
Useful Links • http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/paso/index.html • http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/paso/history.html • http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/paso/investigations.html • http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/paso/excavations.html • http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/paso/kids.html (especially for students)